Very Nice, by Marcy Dermansky. Pub 2019
I have read Dermansky’s previous books (Bad Marie and Red Car) which were wonderful. The lead characters were flawed and made bad decisions, but were still people you cared about and rooted for. I had such high hopes for this book, but was disappointed. Sadly, there was no one I liked or hoped for in “Very Nice”.
Briefly, the story centres around the insipid Rachel, who, after lamely stalking and then seducing her creative writing professor, coerces him into letting her dog-sit for him for the summer while he’s away. Zahid, the spineless writer and professor, is the middlingly successful author of one book who’s failing at writing his second. After a brief trip to India to visit his dying grandmother (he was always her favourite for reasons that remain mysterious), he returns to his apartment that he’s sublet for the summer to Khloe (with a K), the twin sister of a writer friend of his. Suddenly homeless, broke, and unemployed, he goes to Rachel’s house to pick-up his dog, but ends up moving in for a while, not to have a relationship with Rachel (to her petulant disappointment) but to have one with her mother, Becca. Becca is a bored and boring upper middle class housewife and elementary school teacher, whose husband (Rachel’s father, Richard) has recently left her for a younger woman, a pilot named Mandy (like the Barry Manilow song). Becca has also recently lost her beloved pet dog to old age, and so the opportunity to foster the writer’s dog allows her to completely ignore her grief about that. Richard is a successful finance guy (what exactly he does is never made clear), who also happens to be Khloe’s boss. Khloe is trying and failing to have a relationship with Jane, the writer’s editor.
While all of those coincidental overlaps might make for an interesting story about it being a small world or understanding the potential far reaching consequences of one’s own actions, or even the different perspectives trope of he-said-she-said on a larger scale, none of that is explored or even suggested. Instead, we get a series of chapters of the interior monologue and separate experiences of this menagerie of characters such that absolutely all of them are seen as shallow, petty, selfish, and sad. In the end, the only one who seems to get what they want is the dog, who gets to keep living in luxury with the mom. The entire premise seems to have been to lead up to lame joke about shooting oneself in the foot, and that was so clunky it didn’t merit even an eye roll.
All of this is not very nice at all. Perhaps the other novels by Dermansky were so much better because they were set very far outside the author’s own experience – taking place in France and Mexico and California, rather than her own back yard of the NE USA – and so benefited from her imagination by being outside a familiar environment. This novel is weighed down and dragged out by characters without meaning, situations of extreme contrivance, and unnecessary side bar comments about politics and current events that neither enlighten the reader or enhance the story, as well as absurd obsession with a lovely swimming pool. Better editing might have helped with some of this, but likely would not have saved this terribly boring story.
Fate: charity shop or local little library.
8 – a book with a female author.